Hetzner: Environmentally sound hosting

When running a company like Dot Star Media, it’s impossible to get away from needing to run servers – quite a few servers. We have the corporate site (you’re on it now), we have the application site, and we have quite a few mailers to help you receive your enquiries within about 30 seconds of them appearing on social media.

All the servers need to be powered, and while our current hosting provider runs a decent service, they simply aren’t green, despite many people wishing they were.

At Dot Star Media, we care about our impact on society and the environment.

For society, we’re incredibly proud of our charity initiative, which is helping nearly 200 charities get media coverage for their causes.

For the environment, we pledge a percentage of our net profits each year to green causes but want to do more where we can. So this weekend we’re moving our entire hosting environment over to a new hosting provider – Hetzner Online.

Hetzner have been pioneers in using renewable energy to power their data centers; their German data centres – where we’re hosted – use hydro-power. Their hardware is chosen for energy efficiency too.

This weekend there will be intermittent access to our sites as we move our application. We’ll keep it as short as possible.

Searching for gold

When Dot Star Media was merely a twinkle in our eye, we decided it was to be ’email first’ and that there should be few reasons the website had to be used. This drove our design for super-fast email delivery (30 seconds, on average), and straight forward configuring of profile settings.

While over 90% of our customers use email primarily for their alerts (and that being the reason so many have been able to secure media coverage – they arrive so damn quickly!) some do prefer to keep an eye on the recent enquiries page instead, or take one of our digests.

However, as features were developed – especially keyword filtering – and closely integrated with the email alerts and the recent enquiries pages, we wanted a way for people to be able to search for journalist requests which fall outside of their keywords. Perhaps you’re taking on a new client whose interests fall outside of your existing remits – being able to search the archive of requests is massively useful in helping pick your keywords!

Having access to the archive opens up other opportunities. It’s easy to search for journalists who write about certain topics – and the enquiries will be enriched with additional information where we have it. Further more, as our enquiries are only from verified journalists, we’ve removed the significant noise component of searching directly on social media.

So that’s our most recent development. Search. Super simple (single word/phrase search) with choice of how far back you want to look. Currently available from the top of the search bar:

Enquiry Search

Cats in Industry (or how to block individual journalists)

Your new client, Snuffles the Singing Cat, has engaged your services to boost their media profile. They’re interested in providing expert comment on anything singing-cat related, and have a particular interest in Broadway shows – after all, they did study at the BRIT school!

You’re confident that with the help of Dot Star Media, you can keep an eye out for journalist requests which are relevant for Snuffles, and with the power of instant alerts, you can do it without spending all day on Twitter!

You choose your topics – Pets & Animals, of course, and perhaps Entertainment & the Arts – and throw in some glorious cat related keywords (and enhance them with the AI suggested options to be even more effective). Then with a glass of kale juice, you sit back and wait for the opportunities to present themselves.

Gah, what’s this?! You keep receiving requests from Jonathan Griffiths who’s writing for the ‘Cats and Guinea Pigs In Industry’ magazine. From checking his profile, you’re confident these requests will never be relevant. What can you do?

This is the sort of user story which keeps Dan and I awake at night. How can we help make the requests you receive more relevant to your interests? Topics and keywords go a long way, but sometimes more is needed.

Today we’re happy to make this a reality and we’ve added the ability to unsubscribe from requests from specific journalists. By simply clicking on the link at the bottom of one of their requests, they’ll be added to your exclusion list and you’ll never hear from them again:

Exlude journalist from media request feed
It’s easy to exclude specific submitters from your journalist enquiry feed

Added someone by mistake? Click the trash-can by their name and you’ll receive their enquiries again. It is that simple:

Manage journalist request exclusions
Full control over your personal journalist enquiry feed

Our new home on Twitter

We have a new home on Twitter!

After six months of perseverance with Twitter’s support staff, we were finally able to have @DotStarMedia transferred over to us on Saturday:

There was much rejoicing at Dot Star Media HQ.

If you were following us, no action is needed: you’ll receive the same quality content as before. If you’re not yet following us, now’s a great time to do so.

Keyword filtering comes to MS Teams and Slack

Keyword filtering is a powerful way of streamlining exactly which requests make it into your mailbox. It’s a feature we added just a week after launching, and is incredibly popular with our customers who have email alerts enabled.

As well as email alerts – an industry staple for decades – Dot Star Media has pioneered the use of the workflow management tools MS Teams and Slack as a delivery mechanism, and it’s growing in popularity amongst our users.

Because these delivery methods are at the organisation level, they were developed only with topic filtering in mind; keywords were not considered appropriate at the global (organisation) level.

From the feedback we received, this was an incorrect assumption! Keywords are desirable when using workflow management tools.

So (and you must have known this was coming): You spoke, and we listened.

Organisation keywords are here! The page looks remarkably like your personal keyword page and it works in the same way. The only difference is the keywords entered are only used for enquiries which are delivered via MS Teams and Slack. This does make it a Gold level only feature:

While talking about keyword filtering, we have some articles on the importance of a good list, and seeing how effective your keywords are which may be of interest.

We love getting feedback about these developments. It’s your feedback which helps us plan the future of this service so please let us know what’s important to you.

Embracing AI with keyword suggestions for journalist requests

Since we opened up keyword filtering for everyone, nearly 25% of our customers are using the feature. It’s an incredibly powerful way to streamline the journalist requests you receive in your mailbox.

However, there are challenges to crafting a good keyword list: not everyone thinks the way you do.

For example: Perhaps you or your client are in the vodka making business. You’re eager to hear about opportunities for your latest summer blend, you add a keyword of ‘vodka’ to your keyword filter.

A few days later, a request comes in through Twitter which would be PERFECT for you:

Sadly it doesn’t include your magic word, so the opportunity never hits your mailbox. Gah! If only you’d thought to add ‘drink’ too.

This problem has been on our minds a lot – we’ve spent time with a number of clients working on their lists and we thought there must be a better way to do this. So we’ve been hard at work in the Dot Star Media Laboratory seeing what we can conjure up to help everyone in this situation. We think it’s ready for Prime Time and so it’s just gone live.

From today, when you add a keyword to your list, you’ll see some suggestions presented:

If you like the suggestions, add them. If not, they can be ignored. Every time you add a keyword, the total number of matching enquiries from the previous week will be displayed so you can see how effective it’ll be:

Now for the small print: We use a AI-Powered Semantic Network Robot for determining related words. Usually it does a good job, but sometimes it takes a tea-break or engages ‘Friday Mode’ and will return some silly answers. C’est la vie.*

*(if anything particularly incongruous comes up, let us know on hello@dotstar.media – there might not be much we can do but all feedback helps us develop new features for you).

Whitelisting Dot Star Media

If you’re not so interested in the brief history of email delivery, we have a summary of what you should do if you’re a client available here.

On the surface, email may seem simple. You type out a message, you put in a recipient, if you’re not a Person-Of-Mystery, you’ll put a relevant subject too and click ‘send’. A few seconds later, as if by magic, your recipient hears: ‘You’ve got mail!’.

Give or take a few technical details, that’s how it used to work. It was relatively simple, and many companies ran their own email servers, and many slightly-technically-inclined people would run their own personal email server for fun – and it was good fun.

But then came the spammers (and worse). They used every trick under the sun to get you to read their emails. They’d send an email and pretend to be someone else – possibly even someone you knew – and before you knew it, as much as 90% of all email going through the pipes was spam:

image courtesy of Atlas

Something had to be done. In fact, many things were done. Over the years we saw the introduction of:

  • Sender Policy Framework (aka SPF) which told the world which email servers were allowed to send email for a specific domain.
  • Grey Listing relies on spammers being lazy and trying to send an email once and then giving up. A grey list server temporarily rejects the first email from a server for a given recipient, accepting it on subsequent attempts.
  • DomainKeys Identified Mail (aka DKIM) digitally signed each email in a way which could be checked by the receiving email server to confirm it was genuinely from the owner of the sending domain.
  • Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (aka DMARC) uses a combination of SPF and DKIM to allow a receiving mail server to verify the source of the email.
  • Heuristics are used in many ways. Some apply statistical techniques to looking at an email and seeing how ‘spammy’ it is, others are based on how many messages are coming from an unknown mail server, things like that.

Dot Star Media have implemented SPF, DKIM and DMARC, but the one out of our control is heuristics – after all, we’re taking enquiries written by journalists and distributing them to you. Few people are versed in how to write something which doesn’t trigger a spam filter.

Fortunately, there’s one super easy way for you to help get our requests into your mailbox:

Whitelisting!

By ‘whitelisting’ Dot Star Media, you’re explicitly telling your email provider that you want to receive our email. That’s it. It’s entirely free and quick and easy to do. The email addresses to whitelist are hello@dotstar.media and notification@dotstar.media.

Each email client has its own way to do this and the Whitelist Guide contains most of them. Here are the quick links for Gmail or Outlook users.

Journalist request digest

It’s been a few weeks since our last ‘you spoke, and we listened,’ post, so we’ve made this one a corker!

Here at Dot Star Media Studios, we’ve been going on and on about how much noise and spam there is on the wonderful journorequest hashtag, along with all the real gems. In the last seven days, there were 2011 ‘requests’ (that’s excluding the 6029 retweets!). Just 441 of those passed the Dot Star Media Litmus Test Of Greatness. Here’s one of our graphs to help you visualise:

With our ‘real-time alert’ emails, one request equals one email. This is superb for the hot-off-the-press nature of most journalist requests. It’s also perfect if you want to be at the head of the queue with your response. However, some of our subscribers told us ‘the service is great, but I can’t deal with so many emails!’ 

You can of course reduce this substantially by using selective topics and adding some relevant keywords. All the same, some customers were still wanting…well, less.

So, you spoke, and we listened! Dan and I are delighted to introduce Journalist Enquiry Digests. These are groups of enquiries – filtered to your topics and keywords, of course – presented in a single email and sent at pre-determined times. They look a lot like this:

The digest settings are available on your profile page, and look like this:

This should cater for even the busiest people. By the way, the morning digest includes all requests since the previous day’s last email, so you won’t miss any of the overnight action.

As always, we’d be delighted to know what you think so please send us an email, or call.

If you’ve previously had a trial but want to check this out, please drop us a line and we’ll get you set up with another brand new, totally free, no obligation trial.

See the effect of your keywords, as you add them

Since we launched keywords for everyone, it’s become one of our most-used features, providing that extra bit of noise filtering from the main topic feeds.

When choosing your keyword selection, it was difficult to see the effect it would have had; there was no indicator as to how many recent enquiries your keywords would have matched. This lead to the unfortunate situation where a couple of customers ended with a set so niche, they matched nothing.

With this feedback in mind, our weekend development was to include on the keywords page, a banner which says how many enquiries over the past few days you’d have received, if they were in place:

As you add and remove keywords, you’ll get immediate feedback on the number of enquiries matched and if you’re interested in the detail, simply click the banner to see the enquiries in full.

It’s your feedback which helps direct our development, so let us know what’s working for you, and what isn’t, and we’ll see what we can do!

Broad topics of interest

One of the goals of Dot Star Media is to make journalist requests on social media work for you.

To help businesses achieve that aim, we watch social media channels for requests from bona fide journalists, we then classify those enquiries into one or more relevant topics and then fire them off into your email, MSTeams or Slack channels.

When we designed the registration system, our goal was to make it as simple as possible to start receiving these enquiries. To start a trial, all we required was a name, email, and company name (fun fact: the very first implementation was based around per-user subscriptions so we didn’t even ask for an organisation name. On review, we quickly decided that per-company billing was the way forward so we added the extra field. I know I’ve stretched the definition of ‘fun’ there, but hey).

One of the common bits of feedback was ‘we’ve had some great requests come through but there’s a lot which aren’t relevant too.’ and that’s because when signing up for a trial, by default we were subscribing you to all 29 topics.

Dan and I talked through various options and none of them were appealing. Adding 29 checkboxes to the registration page could intimidate some (including me; I’d take one look at a form like that and find somewhere else!)

We’ve settled on adding our broad topic groupings to the registration page and we feel this is a fair balance between usability and function:

So if you choose ‘Lifestyle’, you’ll get Fashion & Beauty through to Travel & Holidays. Of course, having registered you can always fine tune your topics, or even add some keyword filters to further target your feed.

Since we put this live, we’ve seen every single person customise their topic selections, compared to just one in ten before this so we’re confident this change is improving the service for new users.